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Anne Wallingford, WordSmith


Just an Ordinary School Week…
March, 1987

So many times people have asked, “What does a teacher do for a living? How hard can it be?” So, for those of you who have never been on the 'other side' of the desk, this is a sample of my school week. If you get worn out reading the post, then feel free to take a nap for me. (Editor's note: Back in 1987, this was typically the way my week went. I suspect a teacher's workload hasn't changed too much in the last fourteen years.)

Weekly class load:
Five science classes daily (Grades 5-8)
Two seventh grade spelling classes and one penmanship/library class weekly
One Fine Arts class weekly.
And when my homeroom went to gym class I would have my weekly planning session.

General Background:
The school itself had a 90% Hispanic enrollment, and was located in a lower socio-economic area of Chicago. Average class size: 29 students. Average class length: 45 min.

Monday was a fairly normal day. During the first class, students were planning a group presentation and split into small groups for discussion. During penmanship class, students wrote student-of-the-week paragraphs and their essays were posted on the classroom bulletin board.

Over the upcoming weekend, all 186 science students were participating in the school's first science exhibition. All students need to have a completed science project plus a completed research paper. Junior high students received back copies of their corrected rough drafts, and questions were answered. The basics of writing footnotes and bibliographies were reviewed during class time. All final papers are due on Tues. Fifth and Sixth graders are exempt from doing footnotes and bibliography.

Remember all those papers you had to write in high school and college? Well, this is where students are first exposed to writing a term paper, and must be walked through the process, step-by-step, from taking notes to writing paragraphs.

On Tuesday, homeroom class continued their planning while I collected lunch money, candy sale orders and money, and signed slips from their parents about a school board matter. There was a fire drill so students had to get their coats from the lockers and exit the building.

The first group of junior high science students entered with their projects and began setting the projects up for display. A completed project—which they had been working on since January—was to include a scientific experiment or demonstration, a science report or a research paper, and an eye-appealing background. Unfortunately, the displays were not very good and the students were told to come back at the end of the day to get their projects. Fortunately, students still had two days to polish their displays. When the group realized that they were, indeed, Not Finished Yet, there was the expected muttering and grumbling. But being the top class, their pride won out.

The rest of the day's science classes observed the displays and we discussed the displays merits and shortcomings. Although not very good, the displays would, at least, show younger students what was expected—or not—and give them a visual guide. Students took the task of grading the displays quite seriously, and not surprisingly, the lower students graded the junior high exhibits almost exactly the way I had graded the displays.

Lunch was spent mopping up the hall. Evidently one student who had washed his hands at the janitor's sink (what I wouldn't have given for a sink in the classroom!) left the faucet running and the sink overflowed. The water was about an inch deep over 30 sq. ft. before it was noticed. The janitor had already left for the day and the mop and bucket were locked away. With the help of two eighth grade boys, we grabbed paper towels from my room and raided the trash bins for newspapers and used lunch bags…whatever we could find that would soak up water. Fortunately one of the volunteers was my ace science student. With a bit of ingenuity and jerry rigging, we managed to set-up a water wick, or sorts, and left the water to drain back into the now-unclogged sink. I think I was more amazed than the students when it worked and we only had a bit of water to soak up.

After classes ended for the day, about twenty-five students came for extra help on one thing or another. Some needed to have their rewrites proofread, some needed to borrow supplies for completing an experiment, and some just came, like always, to visit. The last straggler left at 4:15 p.m. and then the science club president, Bobby F., and I dragged my Apple IIc computer from the classroom down to the principal's office. (The science club had just received an invitation to participate in an online conference call with NASA and the office was the only room with a phone outlet.) We spent two-and-a-half hours trying to get the modem to connect, but we finally gave up in defeat. It turned out that the school had rotary pulse service, not touch tone.

While we were downstairs fiddling around, the police paid us a visit. (We were the only ones still in the school building.) One of my homeroom students, a young girl, had run away from home on Monday, and had been reported missing. I sent Bobby home, and after vainly trying to contact the principal, I used a screwdriver to remove the hinges from the locked cabinet where student files are kept, and drew up a list of the girl's best friends. (The police had a warrant.) While the police waited, I phoned the girls to ask if they knew where K was. After a bit of hemming and hawing, we did elicit a few pertinent facts, such as the name of her boyfriend, his school, the fact that K thought she was pregnant, and that she'd talked about running away with her boyfriend. After the police left, I phoned K's mother and talked with her for a while. I then reattached the cabinet door and returned to the problem of the recalcitrant modem, but without success.

First period on Wednesday was my planning period because homeroom students went to music class then to gym. My time was spent ordering the award ribbons for the Exhibition, doing next week's lesson plans (which have to be turned in every Fri.), and photocopying flyers about the Science Exhibition for the rest of the school to take home.

No lunch break on Wed., for me, because that's the day I baby sit detention hall. During detention duty I finished correcting last week's spelling sentences, and drew up a schedule for Friday. Students would have to report to me in the cafeteria at specific times to set-up their displays. We have been given an hour-half on Friday afternoon to set everything up, so the timing has to have the precision of a military drill.

During regular Wed. classes, all students except the 5th graders had to set-up their displays in the classroom for once-overs. Anyone needing to do more work could stay after school. Finished projects were taken down the hall to a storage area, but would have to be moved downstairs on to the Club Room on Fri. morning because the storage room was to be used by another group. Projects would be moved from the Club Room to the cafeteria on Fri. afternoon.

Cut-and-paste was the order of the day for the 5th grade class. Step-by-step they cut apart their papers and pasted them in proper sequence on blank sheets of paper: Purpose, Procedure, Results, and Conclusion. For homework, they were to recopy their pasted up outlines in their very best penmanship. (And anyone who typed or used a word processor was to be given extra credit.)

Once again, student stragglers departed by 4:30 p.m.

At that point I left school and went to a nearby restaurant for supper. I was back at the school by 6:00 p.m. because I was driving the junior high cheerleaders to the basketball play-offs. I finally got home by 9:30 p.m.

Thursday's non-science classes were normal, and science classes were spent finalizing projects, reading reports, and a million other last minute chores that needed to be accomplished before Friday.

Friday was the big day for set-up. Thank heavens the other teachers let students sit in the back of their classrooms while I worked in the cafeteria with one small group at a time. Without everyone helping, from the teachers to the students, the Science Exhibit would never have been set-up and ready for the weekend. But we made it!

Why did I do this? Because I loved what I did. I loved working with and challenging students. I loved teaching. I was proud of what I did. In the annual standardized tests given to all Illinois students, my students' science scores had repeatedly been at grade level or above. Am I bragging about “my kids?” You better believe it. They work hard and enthusiastically and had earned those scores.

But if anyone dares to say to me, “Those who can't, teach”, well, I challenge him or her to spend a week in a classroom and see if they can keep up. Any takers? Our schools need good teachers.

Copyright © 2004 Anne Wallingford All Rights Reserved

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Thursday, July 29, 2004